Your Immune System Sees Junk Food As A Virus!

Digging into a double-decker cheeseburger may feel like a harmless treat, but it could be wreaking havoc on your general health. New research reveals a surprising link between eating junk food and the immune system.

selection of junk foodPhoto: Shutterstock / margouillat photo

Spoiler: Junk food is bad for you. It’s a fact that we all know, but many of us try to ignore. While already know fatty food can make us gain weight, it could affect more than just our waistlines. In fact, according to new research, a poor diet could also have a direct impact on the immune system. Good thing there are foods that can help boost the immune system, too!

How Scientists Figured It Out

Over the course of a month, scientists from the University of Bonn fed mice a “Western diet”: one that’s heavy in fats and sugars, while being low in fiber. By the end of the experiment, the animals had started to show inflammatory signs similar to the ones shown when they are infected or have a virus. This suggests that the immune system sees junk food as a virus and attacks it.

“The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice,” explains Anette Christ, a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute of Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn.

Junk Food’s Long-Term Impact

Even more worryingly, fast food seems to have a somewhat permanent impact on the body. The scientists noted that, when they began to feed the mice their normal healthy diet of cereals once again, their inflammation indeed disappeared. However, a “reprogramming of the immune cells” was still evident. That means the immune system was still on high alert long after the junk food binge was over. (Junk food is also twice as distracting as healthy food.)

“It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory,” says Prof. Dr. Eicke Latz, Director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. “After an infection, the body’s defenses remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack.”

What This Means for Your Health

According to the researchers, that inflammation could lead to vascular diseases and even type 2 diabetes. Plus, the fact that your immune system also changes in a fundamental way could have all kinds of negative impacts on your health in the long run. While more research in this area needs to be done, it’s safe to say that you might want to think twice before reaching for that takeout menu. Consider making a quick, healthy meal at home instead.

They’re still indulgent, but healthier than what you get from most drive-thrus.

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.